411 on 9-11: What Do You Say to Children About Headline News?


NYC twin towers 2014 Gary HershornUpdate: Sept. 11, 2014

Reading CNN’s “Post 9/11: Far-Reaching New World of Terror Threats and  Salon’s piece on ‘homegrown extremists’ that looks like a bad Onion satire of The Expendables movie, this solemn day of remembrance goes beyond ‘troubling’ knowing full well our blue marble of a world is like playing pinata with a hornet’s nest.

As I try to update links and resources for Talking to Children About Terrorism and War, while simultaneously dodging in-school K-12 “Channel One” execution horrors brought into the classroom with photos of beheadings dialed down as low as grade three with recklessness about the impact it has on kids’ mental health…the notion of media accountability keeps surfacing time and again.

There’s no “turning off” media that fuels fear, seeping into psyches through schools and peer to peer contact. All we can do is deconstruct the messages lobbed at kids and try to regain control in our own homes. Now more than ever, we need critical thinking and analysis coming DIRECTLY from parents, educators, and adults across the globe willing to put rhetoric aside in favor of responsibility and age appropriate dialogue with our children. We must NOT let media control this conversation. (Visual Credit: NY Post, Gary Hershorn)

osama.jpgUpdate: Sept. 11, 2010 No school on Saturday, so am extremely curious if or how families will observe this day. (The Experience Project is archiving stories in NPR Story Corps media mode.You?)

Original Post: Sept. 11, 2007 When Johnny comes home from school today, casually ask him what day it is…By response, you’ll get a quick snapshot as to whether he’s heard a 100 stories on terrorism, (updated link 2014) or if the twin towers are not even on his radar.

I’ve found ‘open-ended’ questions work wonders to get a ‘read’ on kids’ media literacy and intake of current events. In any age group (particularly kindergarteners and preschoolers) it helps ensure you’re not stomping blindly into tender turf rattling off information or over-reacting to questions out of context.

This method works well for those “where do babies come from” zingers too, not to mention if a child ever utters racial slurs, religious slams, or false absolutes with wide-eyed innocence. All too often, aghast parents over-react with spew-the-coffee incredulity, “Whoa…where did you ever hear THAT? Certainly not in THIS house!” (Cue Psycho screeching soundtrack of “where have I gone wrong” parental guilt crescendo)

As educators of youth by parenthood or proxy, deconstructing news media on any tough topic takes grounded finesse in order to help rather than hinder kids’ emotional processing. No, I’m not offering a panacea for how to handle current events, I’m simply saying children may be carrying home some baggage today far beyond a backpack, so heads up…

Much like the ‘media coping skills’ article I wrote about the Virginia Tech massacre, I’m revisiting 9-11 as a resource round-up for opening difficult conversations like:

“What does war mean?”

“Am I safe?”

“What if something happens to you?”

“Can a plane hit our house?”

I’m a firm believer in the ol’ “follow the leader” routine to see where kids’ are coming from, adjusting tonality on the ‘tmi’ front depending on age, acumen, and inclination.

After all, Osama’s newly surfaced video has pundits and the FBI turbo-clucking, so it’s important to be able to offer kids clarity to balance out media dichotomies and spot the spin of the media’s OWN point of view.

For example, this morning I picked up the S.F. Chronicle and read the headline One Tower Rises Above with a huge illustrated rendition of a proposed 1,200 foot Transbay Terminal which just got the nod from an advisory jury. Alongside it? A teensy weensy sidebar about 9/11 with the head, “For some on anniversary, it’s time to move on”—

I shook my head thinking, “Amazing how they managed to sensationalize and deflect simultaneously.”

This media treatment is a classic capture of editorial commentary by configuration.

The placement and prominence of the tower headline and visual is like a tease with de facto implication. They might as well have sniped, “Yes, we know exactly what day it is, but aren’t we clever to use this alternate visual to overtly make the statement that we prefer to bury this news and move on.”

Ah, media machinations. Gotta love ‘em.

Kids are not only subjected to media’s OWN editorial view, they’re receiving ‘spins’ every nanosecond instilling values and verbiage that you may or may not want kids to be exposed to…

But guess what, folks? Exposed they are.

As Alice Hoagland, mother of one of the Flight 93 victims poignantly said, “Emotionally, I’m one of those people who want relief from the rawness of the day. I wish we could all forget it. On an intellectual level, I’m urging people to remember it. We have undone work to do.”

Her son was the last passenger on board the flight that day, and rather than attend any public ceremonies, she’s quietly visiting her son’s grave and asking people to turn Sept. 11th into a national day of service by going to a new site called myGoodDeed.org and pledging to do something…anything GOOD on or near Sept. 11th.

I like that idea.

Here’s more about how MyGoodDeed is putting a social media spin on 9/11 via the “pay it forward” concept, by creating a site where literally, one good deed leads to another. People can post what they’re doing themselves, and eventually, share, talk about and adopt other’s ideas.

One child today wrote, “I gave a friend lunch money.”Another said, “I kept my little brother from getting hurt today, and took out the trash for my dad.” Another, “I helped a girl open her locker.”

Hey, baby steps gang…engaging kids in media that matters to instill positive practices and global mindsets is the best way I can think of to honor this day.

As Gandhi said, “If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children.”

Shaping Youth’s 9/11 Resource Roundup:
Deconstructing Headline News & Its Impact on Children

9/11 and Children: by Rutgers University; Kay E. Vandergrift

I find this one to be one of the most globally comprehensive and inclusive, with useful adjunct resources and quotes that convey holistic thinking. Her extensive links address a wide range of cultural issues with global context. Sections include:Vandergrift’s global children’s literature page, Islamic traditions/Muslim culture, deprivation/poverty & the dispossessed (biblio of picture books here) the culture of violence in picture books and in guns, games, and war. (extensive link list) Rutgers commemorates 9/11

9/11 What Should We Tell Our Children Georgetown University’s History News Network, & recent follow-up links that delve deeper in context: Teaching About 9/11

Children Now: Talking With Kids About the News Excellent specific talking tips on terrorism (complete with role play) and a solid roundup of web link resources on terrorism/tragedies of various kinds

Helping Kids Cope with Trauma (anniversaries of disasters) Nice healing web/roundup by SparkAction

Sourcewatch: The Path To 9/11: This Sourcewatch site is great for deconstructing ‘front organizations’ and figuring out who’s funding/creating media, from books to broadcast. (In this case, it’s the 9/11 docudrama mini-series produced by ABC/Disney)

Commemorating 9/11: By Ellen Galinsky from the Families & Work Institute

Will They Fly a Plane Into Our House? (talking to children about terrorism; 31pp. pdf public service primer by PhD Lawrence Shapiro)

Children and 9/11: Art Helping Kids Heal by National Geographic News

PBS Teachers: Media Literacy Sites & Programs Great list of links, shows, topics, guides, inc Reflections on 9-11 memorial

Media Literacy Clearinghouse Frank Baker has links out the wazoo on multiple areas of specialization as well as allied orgs (see our blogroll sidebar)

How to Talk to Your Child About the News Simple overview/KidsHealth primer



  1. chi-na sakoma says

    hi amy its me chi-na i was looking at your 9-11 thing so it will help for my report. itis very interesiting. well, see you later i have todo my report.

  2. chi-na sakoma says

    hey amy!
    i finish my report! you really helped me. it was like you are doing the report.
    well, see ya. and thanks!!!=)

  3. um…uh, oh. I didn’t mean to give you THAT much information! C’mon Chi-na…you’re a smart girl, show those teachers your global knowledge! 😉 Domo arigato for the kudos though! See you soon, A.

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